NHS nurses and midwives in England will have seen a real-terms cut to their wages of at least £3,000 during the 10 year period to 2020, under the government’s policy of continuing pay restraint, a report by unions has claimed.
New analysis of public sector pay by the Trades Union Congress highlighted that nurses and midwives were already earning less in 2016 compared with 2010, once rising living costs had been taken into account.
“Government pay restrictions hurt staff in overstretched public services, and make it even harder to recruit good people”
It warned the situation was only set to worsen by the end of parliament under the government’s annual 1% pay rise cap, as wages fail to keep pace with inflation that is predicted to be around 2-3% by 2017.
In a report published today – titled Public Sector Pay Restraint in England – the TUC said a band 5 nurse earning £28,462 in 2016 was expected to see a cut of between £1,366 and £2,656, by 2020. This was on top of a real-terms loss of between £2,467 and £3,842 since 2010.
Meanwhile, the report estimated a band 6 midwife earning £35,225 in 2016 would see their wages cut by between £1,691 and £3,288 by 2020. Their pay had also reduced in real terms since 2010, said the report, by between £3,150 and £4,857.
The TUC warned that as private sector wages increased, this would make recruitment and retention problems worse in public services. It said staff were being forced to rely on other forms of income, such as agency work or by taking out loans to supplement wages.
“We know that many nurses are struggling to provide for themselves and their families”
In addition, it noted that research by economists had found recent steep increases in the use of costly agency staff at NHS trusts were in part linked to pay restraint, because people were put off working in the NHS due to the “deteriorating employment offer”.
The TUC also suggested caps on agency pay brought in for NHS trusts around a year ago were “merely addressing the symptom without changing the cause”, which was the failure to recruit and retain sufficient staff, particularly in nursing.
It called for the government to allow each part of the public sector to determine its own appropriate pay, rather than it imposing a blanket national limit.
The government should also reform its pay review bodies – which make annual recommendations on wage increases for the NHS and other public services – and ensure they are “genuinely independent,” said the TUC.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone in the UK has bills to pay, and it’s only fair that wages should at least keep up with rising living costs. Workers in the public sector are already feeling the squeeze, and it seems like there’s worse to come.
“Government pay restrictions hurt staff in overstretched public services, and make it even harder to recruit good people. Particularly at a time of crisis in the NHS, we need to be recruiting the best people for the job,” she said.
“It’s time for ministers to give public employers the freedom to negotiate with unions for pay in their sectors,” added Ms O’Grady.
The Royal College of Nursing said the report showed pay restraint was having a “real and serious effect on the country’s ability to take care of itself”.
“[The pay rise cap] shows a total disregard for… the physical, emotional and mental sacrifices [staff] make”
It said an increase in pay above the 1% cap would reflect the value of nurses’ work and encourage more people to join the profession.
Josie Irwin, head of employment relations at the RCN, said: “Nursing staff make up the biggest proportion of the NHS staff. They are the backbone of the health service.
“With members recently telling us this is the worst they’ve ever experienced due to under-staffing, under-resourcing and spiralling demand, a logical step would be to attract more people into the profession,” she said.
“Pay restraint for nurses is having a real and serious effect on the country’s ability to take care of itself. The NHS has, so far, been surviving on the goodwill and dedication of its staff, but we know that many nurses are struggling to provide for themselves and their families,” she warned.
The Royal College of Midwives said the analysis provided more evidence of NHS staff being “hit hard” by a significant fall in earnings, while being expected to increase their productivity.
Jon Skewes, RCM director for policy, said: “These workers have already taken a hit on their pensions, paying more for less and for longer, and a hit on their pay, yet the government still insists that their pay award is kept to a maximum of 1%.”
“This shows a total disregard for the contribution NHS staff make, and the physical, emotional and mental sacrifices they make to keep our NHS working,” he said.
“We call again on the government to give the NHS pay review body the freedom and independence to determine what the pay award should be for our NHS staff,” he added.